Politicians Feel Sting of Editorial Pen : Zimbabwean Editor Targets Corruption
In a continent where newspapers are not generally known for their crusading zeal, a Zimbabwean editor has become a national hero and his tabloid a sellout for exposing high-level corruption.
The price for Geoff Nyarota’s principles has been high.
A Cabinet minister threatened him with detention. Two of his staff were allegedly assaulted by a senior politician, and President Robert Mugabe branded two of his reporters enemies of the country.
But Nyarota, editor of The Chronicle in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, remains unbowed.
“Where corruption exists, at whatever level, and we find out, we’ll expose it,” said the 37-year-old editor, a former schoolteacher who broke into journalism with a muckraking weekly newspaper in the 1970s.
The Chronicle’s exposes are small change in Africa, where widespread graft infects most levels of society. But the stories are avidly read by Zimbabweans who have long suspected some of their leaders of dipping into the national till.
In December, The Chronicle published the names of several Cabinet members, security chiefs and ranking bureaucrats who obtained cars and trucks directly from the state-run Willowvale assembly plant, then evidently resold them at a huge profit.
The Chronicle’s front-page report was headlined “Willowgate Scandal.”
Private buyers who order cars must wait years for them, and the demand has created a flourishing black market in which vehicles fetch as much as five times their book value.
Defense Minister Enos Nkala was one of those questioned by The Chronicle’s assistant editor, Davison Maruziva, on the whereabouts of a car he bought.
Nkala demanded to know how the paper knew he had the vehicle, and he threatened to send soldiers to detain Maruziva and his boss.
“Where did you get that information?” the minister reportedly asked.
“That information is supposed to be with the police and the president. I want that information here in my office. . . . If you do not travel here I will use the army to pick you up. . . . I am not the kind to play with.”
Owned by Media Trust
The Chronicle, owned like all other daily and Sunday newspapers in Zimbabwe by the government-controlled Mass Media Trust, also quoted the defense minister as saying he and other politicians were considering suing for libel.
“Nyarota keeps pestering ministers, wanting to know whether we still have our cars,” Nkala was quoted as saying. “I am still angry that I can be pestered by little Nyarota.”
The Chronicle, usually 12 pages printed on a 50-year-old press, has an average daily paid circulation of 65,000 mainly in the Matabeleland Province of western Zimbabwe.
For the issue that splashed the first Willowgate report, the press worked overtime to produce 100,000 copies. All of them quickly sold out.
The 4,000 copies of The Chronicle sent each day to Harare, 275 miles away, are quickly snatched up from street vendors. Some entrepreneurs photocopy the paper and sell it in Harare’s markets, bus stations and suburbs.
Chronicle editors say they could sell thousands more copies in Matabeland and in Harare were it not for a newsprint shortage.
Populace Reacts Angrily
Zimbabweans have reacted angrily to reports of corruption by leaders popularly elected on unfulfilled promises of giving Zimbabwe’s 8.2 million people a fair share of the public pie.
Trade unions, church groups and individual readers have bombarded Chronicle editors with statements and letters demanding independent investigations into the source of some politicians’ wealth. Many live in opulence beyond their means.
“That you are courageous enough to ignore the threats against you, for exposing massive corruption is something the public has long waited for,” one reader wrote. “For our leaders to deplore the muzzling of the press in South Africa and yet advocate locking you up is a clear example of the sheer hypocrisy we are witness to daily.”